Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ask a Librarian: What is Information Literacy

One of the current buzz terms in library land is "information literacy." Librarians throw this phrase around whenever possible, usually when someone is asking them to justify their positions and the benefits they give to society or a school or business or whatever. But what in the world does it mean? (Here's a case where I'm asking you readers a question--if you're not in the library field, have you ever heard this phrase before? If so, what does it mean to you? (Or, what did it mean to you before you read my blog post and became enlightened?)) To librarians, the meaning is fairly straightforward.

Most people know what it means to be literate. There's the basic definition (being able to read) and the more nuanced one (being versed in literature). Most people get the whole "able to read" thing down in grade school, but the "versed in literature" part can take a lifetime to learn. A truly literate person is able to use words any way they wish. They can interpret levels of meaning, express themselves well in person and on paper, etc. For information literacy, take this same concept and apply it to information. (I know--you didn't see that one coming, did you?)

Many people feel like they can find information online. But are they at the "versed in information" level? (I've used the term "information fluency" from time to time, and I think that gives a better description of what librarians are trying to get at.) Ideally, some who is at this level is able to find the information they need whenever they need it. They recognize that sometimes a quick dip into Wikipedia will suffice, and at other times, several books and journal articles will be necessary to fill their needs. They can express what they learn accurately and responsibly, giving readers and listeners the cues they need to be able to find that information themselves. They know that some information is accurate, and some is garbage--and they can tell the difference. They can do all this quickly and easily, without the need to stop and ask for directions every step of the way.

Do you see the difference there? It's just like with language. There's one level of literacy (able to read Green Eggs and Ham) and a much higher one (able to interpret the many facets of meaning in Hamlet). Even at the higher level, some people will be able to see the meanings right off, and some will have to struggle for days to figure them out.

The goal of the modern librarian isn't just to check books out to the masses. It's to teach the masses to be information literate. As the volume information increases so rapidly these days, this is going to only become more and more vital.

It's a life skill, people.

Now, if only we librarians were better and getting the masses to understand this. :-)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Google Voice

For those of who might not have heard, Google Voice went out of beta last week--in geek speak that means it's open to the public at large. What is Google Voice, and why should you care?

What it is:

Basically, it's a service that either replaces all your phones with one number, or enhances your current phone.
  • Replace all phones with one number--this option allows you to give people a number that automatically rings all of your phones at once. Cell, work, home--it doesn't matter. Better yet, it sends all of those numbers to a single voice mail place, so you can get all your messages in one fell swoop. I honestly don't know that much about this option, since Google Voice doesn't have phone numbers available for my area yet. If some of you know more about it and care to add observations in the comments, I'd love to hear your input.
  • Enhance your current phone--This is how I use Google Voice right now. When people call my cell, they get taken to Google's voice mail now instead of Verizon. This voice mail is much more customizable--and it has the killer feature of being able to transcribe the phone calls and email and text me the text of the messages. So I know who called and generally what they were calling about (the text is often fairly garbled--Google's working on making it better.) Better yet, I can listen to messages online from any computer, and I can store messages as long as I want. And if I leave my phone carrier, my messages come with me. You're also supposedly able to use this account to make really cheap international calls, though I haven't put this to the test yet.
I've been using Voice for about eight months now. I absolutely adore it--I even have my wife using it now, too. It's free and easy to use. What's not to like? Find out more about the service here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mantor Monday

"It's quiet out there."
"A little too quiet."
In the movies, as soon as the second line of dialogue has been uttered, things get rapidly unquiet. But I've been muttering those lines all morning, in my best gravelly cowboy voice, and...nothing happens. Apparently, in real life, those two phrases do not have the power to summon enemy troops/zombies/cattle rustlers -or anything else, for that matter. It remains a very quiet, very rainy day in the library.
You know what would be an awesome way to while away a rainy day? DOH! A Simpsons Marathon! I just wandered out to the new materials shelf, and jackpot, Homer fans. Mantor Library has seasons 1 through 8 on DVD. That's hours and hours worth - enough to keep you blissed out on the couch until the sun comes out again.
Or maybe you're one of the Lisa Simpsons of the world, and feel the need to do something a little more, well, productive, than hanging out with Bart. If you're a student or faculty member at UMF, you could come in and use one of the Project Zones here at Mantor. The Project Zone computers are loaded up with design software: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, film & sound editing software - everything you need for a multimedia project. Booking one of the project zones is easy. On the Library home page, click on the Quick Links drop down menu. You'll see calendars for Project Zones 1 and 2. A quick check will tell you if the time slot you're interested in is available. Then, it's just a matter of calling the library at (207) 778-7210 and asking a staff member to book a Project Zone for you.
Get the Simpsons or get creative or (my personal favorite) get a book. I don't care what you get here, just get here if you can. And while you're here, stop by and say hi.
Because it's quiet in here.
Too quiet.
Bookjones, out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Warbreaker

Warbreaker Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those of you who don't know (which I would assume to be most of you at this point, seeing as how new this blog is), I used to be in Brandon's writing group. The nice thing about this is that I got to read all of his material before it was published. The not so nice thing is that I never got to consume it "whole"--all at once, all fresh. Until this book. Brandon released many versions of it online for free, and the final version was published a month or two ago. (Maybe more--I admit I've lost track of time.) This was the first time I'd read even a sentence of it, and I'm happy to report that it really was a fantastic read.

Brandon writes what I'd term "Science Fantasy." His magic systems typically have very hard and fast rules, rules which the characters in his novels explore in much the same way that scientists explore natural laws of physics in our world. As such, new abilities in Brandon books come about not by some sort of mumbo jumbo, but by characters gaining a better understanding of how the magic they've been using all along can be manipulated to do something else cool. (Again, just like scientists we know and love can come up with some new innovation that has the power to change the world we live in.)

In a Brandon book, he will throw you into a world and let you figure it out as you read. There's a learning curve involved, but it's worth it. In Warbreaker, the setting is a world where color and life are magic. Each person has a Breath, and they can sell that Breath to others for money. If someone collects enough Breaths in this manner, he or she can get special abilities--perfect pitch, resistance to disease or age, or the ability to use that Breath to bring other things to life.

Within that setting are two countries at the edge of war. They have largely religious differences, but also socio-political ones. Two princesses of the smaller country have to figure out how to stop that war from happening. That's the basic setup--the whole book is, of course, much more complex.

What did I like about it? First off, it's a standalone novel. You begin and end the epic journey within a single cover. In fantasy these days, you don't see that too often. Second, the characters are very well written. You know and understand them, and you sympathize with them. Third, there are no "villains" per se. People aren't evil just for the sake of being evil--motivations are fleshed out, and you understand why people are doing what they're doing. Fourth, the book isn't predictable. Each time I thought I'd "figured it out," something else popped up to make me reevaluate my expectations. In a good way. The book is a quick, fun read, and the magic system is very well done--very interesting.

What didn't I like? I'd say my one complaint was that the book felt a little too smart for me. I know if I read it again, there would be things in there that would become clearer than they are right now. That's usually a good thing, but I find myself still not being 100% sure of everything that happened in the book and why it happened. Not in an awful way, but in a way that I feel could have been handled a little more clearly. I know that's sort of muddled, but there it is. I wanted the explanations to be about 5-10% more clear. Picky picky, I know.

In any case, you should pick this book up and give it a go--it's waiting for you in Mantor, even as we speak . . . errr . . . read. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I was taking a spin around my favorite library blogs yesterday, when I spotted this at The Centered Librarian:Stop. The. Bus.
There are few things I love as much as I love books, and good food is one of them. Books about food? Bliss. So you can imagine how my endorphin levels spiked when I read that is offering up this yummy 97 page FREE (Yes, FREE. I know. I'm tearing up a little, too.) e-cookbook. And it's not your usual, crummy free cookbook, people. This is not like third grade, when your teacher photocopied (or *cough* mimeographed) all the moms' recipes for a class cookbook. No. There are no foreign objects floating in jello here, and no Cream-of-Whatever casseroles, either.
This is a slickly designed and beautifully photographed (Seriously: centerfold worthy food) little gem featuring my favorite kind of food: minimalist, done-in-ten-minutes, yet fresh and gorgeous and healthy. Think Zen fast food.
I haven't yet jumped on the e-book train. I don't own an e-reader. I like "real" books for the same reasons I like "real" food: reading is a sensory experience for me. I like the way books feel, and smell. I love the glossy, color-drenched pages of art and gardening books - and cookbooks, too. I didn't think an e-book could give me the same sort of experience, but this e-cookbook comes mighty close. And the fact that it's free? Gravy. Or, in this case, Tahini Lemon Dressing.
Oh, and by the way, Consider yourself fanned. I'll be back.
What about you? Are you feeling the e-book love? Or do you like your cookbooks old-school, with the pages all grease-spotty and stuck together?
Yours in hunger,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Why Boolean?

If you've used a library catalog or database, you've most likely been exposed to Boolean operators, even if you've never heard of them before in your life. What's a Boolean operator? Words like AND, OR or NOT that you put between search terms to broaden or narrow your search. But if you're a non-librarian, you've probably wondered why in the world libraries insist on using this seemingly archaic way to search things.

Wonder no more.

Remember last week, when I talked about how searches need to be exhaustive and exclusive? (Meaning they need to return all the results you want and only the results you want.) In order to create a search like this, you need more advanced tools than your typical search engine can give you. When you type something into Google, the search engine does a full-text search through all of its indexed pages for the phrase you typed. By default, Google uses AND to connect the words you're searching for.

Library catalogs and databases, on the other hand, are different machines. They're designed to allow the user to create very precise searches. It's possible to use Boolean logic with Google, if you go to their advanced search page, but Google doesn't really do as well with Boolean--it's not designed to, just as databases don't do as well with phrase searching--they're not built to handle it. (This makes sense--Google searches a wide variety of material, most of it not created specifically for Google, so it has to be as inclusive and forgiving as possible. Databases, on the other hand, search very specific records, each of them created just for that database, so the search device is designed to be more "high performance," if you will.)

So what do the different operators do?

AND--Searches for every record that has both terms in the record. In the diagram above, that would mean it returns everything where A and B intersect. Useful for narrowing your search--making it more focused. You don't just want things about cats or things about dogs--you want things that talk about cats and dogs at the same time.

OR--Searches for every record that has either of the terms in it, meaning it would return everything in the diagram above. This is a great way to broaden your search. You want things about cats or dogs--it doesn't matter which. Typically, you'd put OR between synonyms (searching for fat OR obese OR overweight OR chunky OR chubby OR . . . you get the picture).

NOT--Searches for every record that doesn't contain the search term. In the diagram above, searching for A NOT B would return everything shaded pink. This is useful when you're trying to eliminate something that typically shows up in a search for another term. So if you're looking for information on the Nile delta, you might throw in a "NOT airplane" to try and get rid of results that have to do with the airline company.

XOR--Ah, the famous XOR. It's not used much, but it searches for records that have one term or the other, but not both. In the diagram, this would be everything that's pink or blue, but not purple (the middle section). Think of it as the Boolean equivalent of either/or. I'll be honest with you--I've never used this in a search. Does that mean I fail as a librarian? Shh . . . don't tell anyone!

How do you string Boolean terms together?

You do it by using the wonders of the parentheses. Brush off your old algebra memories and get busy. (A OR B) and C would return everything that has A and C in it, and everything with B and C. A OR (B and C) would return everything that has A and everything that has either B or C. Clear as mud? Try this one:

(A OR B) AND ((C OR D) NOT E)), or, written with actual search terms, (cats OR felines) AND ((cartoon OR animated) NOT Garfield)

Yes, it's possible to quickly get lost with this sort of approach, and yes, databases are working on becoming more user friendly. Ideally, a search tool would be as forgiving as Google but as precise as a database--and I see databases heading that direction. Give them a few more years. In the meantime, know your Boolean operators, and don't be afraid to use them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Future of Movies

A few years ago, there was a big To Do over the format wars: Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD. While the majority of the world probably didn't have an idea what the war was about, to the parties involved, it got to be quite cut throat. In essence, it was a repeat performance of the Betamax vs. VHS war in the 80s: a battle for movie format supremacy. Two competing technologies emerged that did essentially the same thing: make films prettier. (Well, the slightly more complex function would be "store movies in a rich enough format to allow viewers the ability to see much more visual information on the screen," but that's too much of a mouthful, n'est-ce pas?)

In any case, after much bickering and feuding, HD-DVD was vanquished, and Blu-ray emerged to rule the world.

Or did it?

How many people actually own a Blu-ray player these days? How many people even own an HD television set? Back in 2009, 83% of American households had a DVD player. 7% had a Blu-ray machine. At the same time, 47% had a high definition television. (See here for source.) Looking at those numbers, one would think that the Blu-ray numbers would be higher. (Of course, some of this will have changed in the past year--and the survey cited seemed to count PlayStation 3s separately from Blu-ray players, despite the fact that PS3s play Blu-rays.)

Compare those numbers to a recent survey done by the Pew Internet Group: 69% of adult internet users have viewed an online video. That's 52% of all adults, and that number is only going to get bigger. In three years, the percentage of adult internet users who watched a movie or TV show online shot up from 16% to 32%. YouTube just celebrated its fifth birthday. Just ten years ago, the idea of watching a movie online would have been preposterous. The file sizes would have been unmanageable--the download speeds intolerable. And yet today we have YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and more. ESPN3 streams live sports online. Each of the main TV stations have places where you can watch their shows online, as well. We've gone from this being an unimaginable occurrence to being an everyday one.

Project this trend five years into the future. Bandwidth will have grown. High speed internet penetration will be bigger than ever. I used to buy DVDs--lots and lots of DVDs. Today, I don't buy any. I can have any movie I want delivered to my house in a day or two via Netflix. I can watch tens of thousands of movies and shows instantly--many in high def. Five years from now, I expect that to change from "tens of thousands" to "all" and from "many" to "all" as well.

So riddle me this--if I can get all of these films instantly through my internet connection, why in the world would I want to buy a Blu-ray?

The fact is that the days of buying media in disc form are numbered. Yes, it'll likely still be possible, but the majority of people will be buying things virtually--never seeing or receiving a tangible piece of something to put in a player. Even books are headed that direction.

So what does that mean for libraries?

It means we're going to have to figure out what in tarnation we're going to do about this. I'm currently the film collection developer at my library. We add about two to three hundred DVDs a year right now (thank goodness DVDs can be played in Blu-ray players!) How will that work in the future? When you don't have a physical copy to lend out, how do you let users borrow something? There are a couple of approaches these days. The first is to have virtual copies available online. Users check one out, download it to their computer, and it self-destructs when the checkout period expires. At that time, the virtual copy becomes available for someone else to checkout. A second approach is to have many many movies available, and then to charge each library per checkout--the library then never pays for the actual film. Instead, it pays for the uses of the films as it goes. A subscription model, if you like.

I see issues with both of these approaches, and I have yet to find an approach I'm in love with. But the fact is that we live in an era where things are changing so rapidly, it's hard to make any projections about the future. Five years ago, I couldn't have laid out the situation we're in today, and I'm confident I'll be able to say the same thing when I look back at today five years from now. I'm just happy to live in exciting times. :-)

How about you? Do you have a Blu-ray player? Watch many movies online? Tell tell tell!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mantor Monday

Well! That was fun!
Today was the first round of Summer Experience "Meet Me At Mantor" orientation sessions, and I had a great time meeting 63 of our incoming freshmen. We sent them off on a scavenger hunt around the library, armed with maps and helpful tips such as "None of the staircases go to all of the floors" (Which is true - the staircases in this library are Hogwartian in their ability to confuse and disorient.) When they had been around all three floors, two basements, and the mezzanine, they came back to the browsing room (the real one, not this blog) where I got to greet them with a Final Challenge. And no, it wasn't an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade sort of challenge. They didn't age a million years and implode in a cloud of dust if they answered incorrectly. We gave them a few questions to answer about things they learned in the scavenger hunt, and then gave them candy. Yay!
I have to say, I was very impressed with how cheerfully the students accepted the mission, and how engaged they were with the activity. I'm really looking forward to meeting the other half of the Summer Experience during tomorrow's sessions.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Reviews: The Magicians and Shades of Grey

The Magicians The Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Every now and then I read a book that I just can't put down. This is one of those. The writing is literary and fascinating, the characters complex, the subject intriguing--I don't know . . . Everything about this book worked for me.

It's basically your standard YA fantasy at heart, but approached from a much more reality-based angle. What if the magical world the main character discovers doesn't change his life for the better? What if the problems he had before--character flaws, unmet dreams, etc--still exist? And when you think about it, doesn't that make sense? Why should walking through a wardrobe suddenly make everything else okay? Grossman has depicted a world where magic is very real, in all senses of the word.

The book is by no means a candy coated experience. It's not a children's book in the slightest, despite the fact that it covers the same sort of school experience as the Harry Potter series did. It feels very much like you're reading a Work of Literature that happens to be fantasy, but I liked it all the more for that. I'd be interested to hear what other people thought of this one. I could see some people really disliking it--but for me, it worked great. Plus, it was the sort of book that makes you want to talk to other people about it once you've finished.

So. Talk.

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron (Shades of Grey, #1) Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was an all out fascinating read. I'd read some of Fforde's Thursday Next series, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but for me, this one blew Thursday out of the water. It's a post-apocalyptic book that makes hardly any sense at all for the first thirty or forty pages. They you start to get a hang of the sort of world these people live in now, and it all starts making sense. The basics? People can each see one or two shades of color each. So a Red looking at an orange ball would just see the red in the ball, and a Yellow would just see the yellow. The society is divided by class. Purples are royalty, Yellows are the police, Greys (who can't see any color) are essentially slaves. But it's far more complex than that. Really, you have to read it to believe it. The post-apocalyptic plot isn't exactly mind-bending. But the world these characters live in and experience is what the real draw is--sort of like reading Flatland again. Better yet, the book is the first in a trilogy. I eagerly await the sequels.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Meet Me at the MoOM

In his insanely catchy song "Little Lies", Dave Barnes sings:
"There's a devil on my shoulder, baby, ooo-oooh,
and I believe too many things he says...."

Yes. Well. Turns out Dave isn't the only one with a devil on his shoulder. The problem seems weirdly prevalent among old-timey magicians, as well, at least if the artwork in A Visual History of Whispering Imps on Magic Posters is to be believed.
This sinister collection of magician memorabilia is one of the featured websites this month on an interesting new reference site I came across recently.

The Museum of Online Museums (I just love the Russian Nesting Doll quality of that name.) is an eclectic mix of online museums, galleries, and exhibits. There are traditional mainstays on offer, such as the Smithsonian and the National Gallery, but also quirkier entries, such as The Bubble Blowers Museum, The Archive of American Gothic Parodies, and this two minute video: a visual blitz of every painting hanging in the MoMA, accompanied by piano.

The Museum of Online Museums is updated quarterly, with featured exhibits (such as our imps) displayed in the left hand column, and then archived afterward for later viewing. So, if you enjoy virtual museum tours, or have a patron searching for the beautiful or the bizarre, take a spin around the MoOM.

And now, just because it's Thursday, and because I know you want it, I'm going to leave you with Dave and his Little Lies. And if you find yourself compulsively singing lalalalala LA la afterward? Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Will There be Librarians in the Future?

In the last few years, there have been no shortage of opinions given on the future of librarians (or lack thereof). Many people seem to believe that with the advent of the internet and the rise of Google, the world's need for librarians is going to dwindle away until, one day, librarians will be looked upon as a quaint profession that outgrew its usefulness, like the milkman, or the ice truck. After all, if all you need to do to find information is go online, type a bit, click a bit more and then soak in the knowledge, what's the use of a library? Especially when its only other use (to give you books) has been replaced by e-readers.

I think the biggest part of this opinion is based on two misguided assumptions: that the internet makes information finding easier, and that librarians are all about books. Let me go through those assumptions one at a time.

First, I admit I'm a tad confused as to why people assume the internet makes their information-finding needs disappear. Well, that's not entirely true--I understand why they think that, but I know why they're wrong, too. When you have a question these days, it's very easy to Google your way to an acceptable answer. Of course, this depends on what your definition of "acceptable" is. If your question was something basic--the birthplace of Bach (Eisenach, Germany), or the state flower of Nevada (sagebrush), then it's a piece of cake. But what if your question is more advanced? How about "what's the most fuel efficient car on the market today?" or even worse, "What car should I buy?" What I'm getting at, is as long as you're dealing with facts, Google is (more or less) on even ground. Once you get into opinions or evaluations of facts, then you're in deep waters, my friend. (For one thing, you've turned your information finding needs over to a company that makes their money off of ads, and who ranks results using a method others try to hack so that their web pages come back higher in your results list--but that's all a topic for another day.) Google can find you plenty of pages about fuel efficient cars, but it can't filter out the reliable from the unreliable.

Get even more difficult: an ideal search for information (like "How did American culture lead to the rise of al-Qaeda?") should return information that is both exclusive (only has results that have to do with your subject) and exhaustive (has all the results that have to do with your subject). Google does an awful job with this. You do a search, and you get back a big ol' pile o' results. Sifting through those results is cumbersome and bewildering. People usually end up giving up and settling for an article or two that they find that are more or less what they were looking for.

Enter librarians.

Did you know we actually took classes on how to best find information online? Some of us did, at least. And we specialize in finding information. Not just any information, either--reliable information. We can look at something, evaluate it, and decide if it's worthwhile or not. We deal in information. Why should the rise of so much more information online mean that the profession that specializes in searching and using that information will disappear? As cars get more complex, do mechanics find themselves unemployed? As more laws get written, do lawyers go out of business?

This ties into the second assumption: that librarians are all about books. As a librarian who does most of his work on the computer and with computers, I obviously have a bone to pick here, but I realize that it's a long-lived stereotype, and that nothing I say here is going to diminish it. The problem is that people who think this clearly haven't been using modern libraries lately. We have ebooks, audiobooks, digital libraries, blogs(!), online catalogs, databases--you name it. Libraries actually do their best to stay ahead of the technology curve and embrace the changes as they come. (Or at least, libraries that want to stay relevant do this.) So the future of libraries and librarians is not as closely tied to the future of the book as some people seem to think.

Bottom line: I think libraries will change, yes. And who knows how those changes will play out--but one thing I feel safe in saying: Librarians aren't going anywhere.

What do you think? (Bonus points if you can name the movie that picture is from, and double bonus points if you can make the connection of what that movie has to do with this post.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Latest in Technology Land

The past week or two have been big ones in terms of technology updates. It all started last week with Apple's announcement of iPhone 4, the latest version of their hit smart phone. This new iteration comes complete with a higher resolution screen, a front facing camera (making video phone calls possible), a high resolution camera on the back (for HD video and picture taking, and the ability for multitasking (running more than one app on the phone at the same time). In addition, Apple brought its popular ebook app (iBook) to the iPhone (it was previously only available on the iPad). Of course, the impact this will have here in our neck of the woods isn't too terribly big. iPhones, of course, only work with AT&T, which isn't a carrier out here. What's the point in having an expensive piece of technology if it's unusable? My personal dream is for Apple to ink a deal with Verizon, at which point I'd switch my current cell phone over to an iPhone. There were rumblings that such a deal might be in the works, but alas, it was not to be.

One might wonder what sort of steps Mantor is taking to prepare for the rush of people using smart phones to access our content. Well, let me answer that question with some statistics. In the past year and a half, we've had over 130,000 visitors to our library website. Of those, 35 came from a smart phone or an iPad. That might as well be 0, as far as percents are concerned. The fact of the matter is that the smart phone revolution hasn't moseyed its way up here to Western Maine yet. When it does, we'll be ready--have no fear. I'd love to develop a mobile web page, for one thing--but until I see usage that warrants me devoting a chunk of my time to doing it, I just can't justify the effort.

Moving on.

In a different vein, this week is the Electronics Entertainment Expo, also known as E3. It's the biggest showcase for new and upcoming video games. Big names like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony reserve some of their biggest announcements for this venue. This year promises to be the year of motion sensing, with Microsoft and Sony both launching new motion sensing peripherals to their gaming systems. Think of it like the Wii, but more refined. What does this have to do with libraries? In the near future, not so much (besides the possibility of libraries hosting game nights that use these video games to draw in new users). In the long term, possibly a great deal.

Allow me to explain. Think of most sci-fi movies you watch. They often have some sort of advanced technology for interacting with computers and information. Whether it's using your whole body to maneuver through files (ala Minority Report) or speaking to the computer to get it to do what you want (ala Star Trek), people in the future don't use silly things like mice and keyboards to interact with technology. Imagine a library where you tell it what your research question is, and it assembles all the needed resources and delivers them directly to you. Or maybe a library where you can browse the shelves from your seat, using your hands and eyes to virtually move through the stacks.

I'm not sure how much of that is realistic. So much of this motion capture and voice activated technology is so new, I think a lot of applications are being developed for it that just don't make sense. Think of the early days of motion pictures, when people would go to the theater to watch a film of a train. No plot, no action--just a train chugging along. These people could just as easily have gone to the train station and watched a real live train in person--arguably a better experience, and free to boot--but the technology was so new, it was cooler to watch a train on film. Time went by, and we no longer have people staring entranced at filmed trains.

What I mean is that often when a new piece of technology comes out, we use it for things that make little sense. There are cases where using a pen and paper is much more reasonable than using a laptop. The same will apply to motion capture. Why should I have to stand somewhere and flail about with my arms and legs when I can accomplish the same task with a single mouse click? See what I mean?

In any case, I'll be following these advancements closely--so you don't have to. :-)

Heard about something that you'd like my opinion about? Think I'm off base on something I've said today? Tell me about it! What technology are you looking forward to?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mantor Monday

Got GPS?
Library Orienteering is going to be the name of the game next week, as incoming freshmen enrolled in Summer Experience participate in sessions designed by library staff to familiarize them with Mantor library and the academic support services offered here.
I've heard rumors of chocolate, so I'll definitely be on board to help out, and will report more on the activities next Monday.

Unless you've been under a rock for the last month, you've seen and heard about the tragedy of epic proportions that is unfolding in the Gulf. I can't discuss it too much, because it makes me feel helpless, and sad, and surprisingly homicidal, for a pacifist. But to remind us all of the fragile, remarkable life forms we need to protect, there will be a tribute to some of the beautiful gifts from the sea in the lobby display case. Traveler and shell seeker Jan Morton, of Wilton, Maine, has generously loaned many fine examples from her collection, and we've complimented them with shell books from the Mantor shelves. The new display will be ready for viewing early this week. Come in and check it out!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Reviews: Catching Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book, and I thought it was a great followup to Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins does a fine job extending the problems and challenges that were yet to be solved from the first book. However, it didn't quite have the same OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO AWESOME feeling as the first book. The problem is, I can't really get into why it lacked that feeling without spoiling the book for readers, and I firmly believe that spoiling this book would be wrong. Thus, I can't really critique it effectively.What I will say is this: if you liked the first book, you must read this one, as well. I think you're pretty much contractually obligated to. And if you read this one, you'll need to read the next one, as well. If I had to compare this series to a film series, I'd say right now it's coming off as the Matrix. The first one was mind blowingly good. The second one was good--but overhyped. I'm not saying Catching Fire was overhyped, but . . . it's not Hunger Games.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millenium, #3) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think the highest praise I can give this book comes in the way I read it: in a single day, staying up until 3am--on a work night!--to finish it. It really is that good. Larsson's characters are all compelling, and the conflicts they find themselves in compel you to keep reading--to find out what happens next. This is something I wish I could do a better job of as a writer--making my plots good enough that putting the book down is not an option.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it lacks a tad in the realism department, although most of that is centered on the gripe I had from book two in the series, where the characters started seeming a tad superhuman to me. (Lisbeth particularly started seeming like the Terminatrix at the end of book two.) Some of that carries over to this book, but Larsson does the wise thing and starts using realistic approaches to solving the problems.

In the end, I was wholly satisfied with the book and the series. It's not for the faint of heart--definitely chock full o' bad language and violence--but it's a great book. Very tragic that Larsson died before any of us got to see how good a writer he really was.

View all my reviews >>

Both of these books are available here at Mantor. Check 'em out today!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

America's Next Top Library

If I were setting Mantor Library up on a blind date, I would describe her as having a really nice personality. Which, as everyone knows, is blind-date-matchmaker speak for “is never going to be a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. ( A relief, actually, because – seriously - is there anything creepier than watching Tyra Banks demolish a season’s worth of emotionally fragile model wanna-bes? No. It’s like watching a python consume an entire herd of tall, skinny goats.) Anyway, back to the library. Architecturally speaking, Mantor is a little too…utilitarian… to be considered beautiful. More Soviet Bloc than I. M. Pei, if you catch my drift.

The subject of Mantor being somewhat aesthetically challenged came up while we were designing a new library brochure. We have so many great services to offer, it was difficult to whittle the text down to fit brochure format. But when it came to images, on the other hand…not so much. And while the brochure came out really good, it did get me to thinking about what it might be like to come to work every day in an environment that was movie-star gorgeous.

So today, I decided to take a virtual tour of libraries that rank considerably higher on the hotness scale than ours. And I found some real stunners. Like these.

And more, like the dark and brooding Trinity College,

or the light-filled and airy Seattle Public.

This is the Salt Lake City Public Library:

Is it me, or does it remind you of Hollywood Squares? I'll take Paul Lynd for the block. And circle gets the square at Phillips Exeter Academay Library, too:

while this daunting library at Yale is like a futuristic version of Connect Four.

So there they are: supermodels of the Library world.

But of them all, if I didn’t work here at Mantor, I’d choose this one:

Which, while not soaring or High Tech or cutting edge in any way, shape, or form, is really much more my speed. Let's just hope we can outrun Tyra.

Thanks for playing.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Dewey or LC?

Ah, the wonders of classification systems. For the uninitiated, these can seem like fairly random ways of organizing information. QL 599.82? 551.447 M83? Whatever happened to alphabetical by title? Or by author's last name? The problem comes from having too many things to organize. Take your MP3 player. If all you have on it is a single CD, or a few CDs by various artists, alphabetical organization is enough. But if you have days worth of music, sticking to an alphabetical approach can get old, fast. You probably start separating things by genre, or artist, or composer, or whatever. And then within artist, you separate some more--by album--and then break that down alphabetically. This works great for an MP3 player, where you can actually write out each of the categories, but what if you're working with actual physical CDs, and you want to find things fast. What if--what's worse--people often borrow your CDs, and you have to remember each time where that CD is supposed to go?

This is where classification systems come in. They're (supposedly) exhaustive, and they're short enough to allow for things to be printed on book spines, thereby allowing them to be found (and shelved) more easily. There are a number of different styles out there, but the two most common are the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification System. What's the difference? You can follow the links to find out the nitty gritty, but the basic answer is that Dewey works better for smaller collections. Dewey divides information into 10 main categories, with each category getting a hundreds-level number (100, 200, 300, etc). Each of those categories are divided into 10 sections, with each assigned a tens-level number (10, 20, 30, etc.). And each of those is divided into 10 sections, with each assigned a 1 level (1, 2, 3, etc). So 915 has the 900 level (history), the 10 level within that (geography) and the 5 level within that (Asia). It's simple and straightforward, but what happens when you have a bunch of Asian geography books? You start having a slew of decimals. Finding 915.123142142134 can be a bit of a pain, yes?

LC, on the other hand, has 21 classes at the top level (instead of just 10). Not only that, but it's more recent, so the subjects make a bit more sense. (Dewey was started in the 19th century, before a whole lot of knowledge was uncovered. It didn't anticipate things like computers, for example.) LC is broken down into subjects, with each main subject assigned a letter of the alphabet. Within those subjects, it's divided further by letters, so you can have PZ be different from PR and PS. After that, numbers kick in to divide it further, and decimals can be added (of course) to flesh things out. It's overkill for small collections, but it works pretty well for large collections like academic libraries.

Thus, generally speaking, you have Dewey for public libraries and LC for academic. There's more intricacies to it than that, but just how specific did you want me to get? :-)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

iPad Review

As some of you know, I purchased an iPad about a month ago. This was by no means an easy purchase for me. The things aren't cheap, after all ($499 for the base model), and I don't exactly have money growing on trees out back. However, I really really really wanted one, and I was able to scrounge up enough to cover the cost. Even then, I debated in Best Buy for quite some time. Was I buying into the hype too much? Would I regret spending the money? I'm quite the gadget junkie, and I didn't want to look back a month later on my purchase and wonder why I'd been so stupid as to fall for the advertising. Even with all that hesitation, I took the plunge and bought one.

It's now a month later, and I feel like I've used the thing long enough to be able to accurately review it.

The short answer (for those of you with short attention spans and no desire to read a long review) is that I love it. If I'd known then how much I would use and love my iPad, I wouldn't have hesitated a moment in Best Buy. Anyone on the fence should stop hesitating and start getting out their wallets. End of short answer.

The Long Answer

If you're still with me, I assume that's because you're very interested in hearing the nitty gritty details about the iPad, and what my take is on all of them. Have no fear, dear reader--all your questions shall be answered.

Perhaps the biggest question my wife had for me before I bought my iPad was "What will you use it for?" I now know the answer: everything. I use my iPad multiple times a day for a variety of reasons. Allow me to demonstrate:

Surfing the Web
Really, there's no comparison to the surfing experience you get on an iPad. It's like you're holding the internet in your hand, and that makes it feel like a much more interactive experience. Web pages are big enough to read without needing to zoom and scroll all over the screen (like you need to do with an iPhone). The loading times are fast, and the control intuitive. What don't I like about the web experience? Well, obviously there's the omission of Flash--Apple and Adobe are having a bit of a spat right now about Flash (a piece of software that allows websites to be more interactive and, well . . . flashy. It's used quite a bit by many different sites.) Apple says it's buggy. Adobe says it's fine. In the end, it doesn't matter what Adobe says--it's Apple's sandbox, and if they don't want Adobe to play in it, they don't have to let them. Do I miss flash? Not really. With the single exception of, I have yet to have gone to a site where I couldn't use my iPad.

No, I haven't given up all my print books yet, but I've put the ereader app Apple includes with iPad to the test (iBooks) to see how it runs, and I have no complaints at all. It's easily legible, you can adjust the brightness, font style and size at will, and it's a breeze to navigate through the books. Better yet, it passed the "Sleepy Test" for me. I read before I go to sleep each night, and I had heard from some people that reading from a screen would never let me get tired in the same way reading from a printed page will, since the screen is lit up and firing light into my eyes all the time. Hogwash. I got tired just fine, thank you very much. It really felt no different than reading form a book--and that's the highest compliment I can give it. When the technology is good enough for you to forget you're using it, you know you have a winner.

You can stream Netflix from your iPad. It does so effortlessly. You can also interact with your queue and see everything on your account. The screen is big enough for the wife and I to watch together. If you're a Netflix streaming junkie like myself, this alone is huge.

They look amazing on the iPad. Up until now, I've always felt guilty that I haven't been printing more of my pictures. I take great ones, and they stay on my computer. Now I don't have to print them--I have them in my hand to show people whenever I want. This is an experience that was good on the iPhone, but great on the iPad--just like having a small picture isn't as good as having the same one, bigger. Make sense? Plus, the iPad can double as a digital picture frame. You set it up, and it'll cycle through the pictures on it. Love it.

Oh yeah--it plays music, too. Did I mention that?

Since the iPad can run iPhone apps as well, you have all the iPhone apps you love, and more. I have an imdb app, a calorie counting app, weather app, comic book apps, news apps, cookbook apps, finance apps, a Facebook app, espn app, word puzzle apps, game apps--and I use them all. This has in many cases eliminated my need to check something on the web--I can just pull up the appropriate app and have the info I'm looking for more quickly than I've been able to get to it before. A complaint I do have is that many of the iPad apps have inflated prices, it seems. They have the same functionality as their iPhone counterparts, but they cost five times the price? For better graphics? No thanks. I buy the iPhone app and run it instead.

Video Games
Games on the iPad are plentiful, with many free options that are great, and paid ones that don't break your bank. When you're used to shelling out $60 for a game, and then find you can get the same amount of fun out of one that costs $1.99 . . . you start going for the $1.99 option. I'm considering just asking for iTunes gift cards for my birthday, then using them to buy apps and games I love.

Board Games.
This is huge for me. Board game companies are starting to migrate toward the iPad, and that just makes sense. Carcassonne and Small World and Settlers of Catan are already there, each for $5. It's also got your more standard fare, like Scrabble or Boggle. Games that can cost $30-$50, now just $5? And I don't have to set them up and worry about losing pieces? Love it. I can't wait for more to follow.

The Battery
My iPad charge lasts forever, or at least it seems to. Until now, I've always felt like I needed to ration my battery life--regardless of what device I was using. I knew in the back of my mind that if I used _______ too much, I'd be out of juice, and then I couldn't use ________ until I plugged it in again. Not so with my iPad. It lasts 10 hours--and that's 10 hours of constant use. I can go days without recharging it, even when I'm using it quite a bit on those days. That's lovely. I adore the iPad battery.

All of this amounts to one remarkable thing: I'm using my laptop a whole lot less. If I want to check something online, my iPad can be up and running in a fraction of the time it takes my laptop to rouse itself out of hibernation. I don't have to worry about the battery dying on me, either--and that's a huge plus, as I've said before.

I can now just open my iPad and check my email--and respond to it--easily and quickly. This is an equivalent experience to email interaction on my iPod Touch.

The onscreen keyboard is fairly easy to use. It's not perfect, but with some practice, you get the hang of it. I've written my journal on it so far, but I haven't put it to the test and done any really long writing on it. I have a feeling that might get frustrating. However, it comes equipped with Bluetooth, so you could hook an exterior keyboard up to it, if you desired.

There aren't many for me to speak of. I would like to have a camera on it somewhere--ideally two, like the iPhone 4 will have. A USB port would also be nice (although if you buy an iPad camera connection kit, it gives you a USB port with limited functionality). But really, this is getting nitpicky. I mean, expecting one device to literally do everything is a bit much, isn't it? In the end, I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. I don't consider myself to be an Apple fanboy--my laptop and desktop both run Windows, not OSX--but I appreciate what Apple has done. Actually, it's what they've done with the iPod and iPhone--took an existing technology and made it irresistible.

So what are you doing? Go out and buy an iPad today! Got any more questions for me about them? Ask away. Disagree with something I said? Correct me. I'd love to hear what you all have to say.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mantor Monday

Bookjones is out today, so you have me bringing you the news and happenings of Mantor today, instead. What happened last week? We're into May term now, so things are quite a bit slower at the library than they are during the school year. Where usually we have students in and out, researching, working on group projects and having classes on how to improve their research skills, once spring term is over, that all winds down, and we can focus on getting things ready for next year. For instance, one thing we're working on is a new brochure. We try to avoid making big changes when students are here, so look forward to seeing more biggish changes ahead this summer.

What's up this week? Nothing really big to report. I'm working on some statistical analyses of the survey results we got back in May, but nothing to announce yet on that front. That's all I've got for you this week, folks. Tune in next Monday to see what else is on the horizon.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Review Friday: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let me start by saying I'm a sucker for Salem. Any book that has the witch trials as a part of it is going to earn an extra bit in my rating, just because it's something I'm interested in. (Just as any book that is primarily a romance will score lower for me--I don't like the genre.) Why do I like Salem? A part of it has to do with the fact that I'm related to a witch. Or an accused witch, at least. Giles Corey refused to enter a plea when he was accused. Since according to law at the time, he couldn't be tried until a plea was entered, he was tortured until he would. The torture? They laid him down in a field, placed a wooden board on him, and stacked heavy rocks on it until he broke down. Oh yeah--and they only let him eat rotten bread and stagnant water. He never broke down, though. His last words? 'More weight.' Yeah. I have cool ancestors.

Anyway, so with that disclaimer, on to the review. The book seesaws between the present day and Salem witch trial times. Much of it rests on a developing mystery, so I don't want to really get into the plot to much. If you're looking for summary, look elsewhere. I enjoyed the book for the most part. I think without my Salem-leanings, I'd give it three stars. With them, I raised it to four (out of five). What worked for me? The historical accuracy of the novel. Howe makes a lot of effort to portray things as realistically as possible. The characters were well done, and the descriptions clear and vivid. I particularly enjoyed how well minor characters were pulled off, each of them seeming to be real people, not just parts brought in to fulfill a role the author needed filled. That's a tricky line to walk without letting minor characters take over the book, and Howe walks it well.

What didn't work? The ending fell apart for me some. A book that rests as much in mystery as this one does will succeed or fail primarily based on the resolution of that mystery. The resolution left me with a meh feeling, which was disappointing. It wasn't bad, per se--but it certainly wasn't mind-blowing. Some of the characterizations at the end fell apart, as well.

(Pet peeve of the book? Howe's portrayal of librarians. The woman seems to have had her share of bad run ins with my profession, and she doesn't paint us in too bright a light. We're not all stuffy self-centered shh'ers, Ms. Howe!)

In any case, if you like mysteries, historical novels, witches or grad students (the main character is a history doctoral student), this will be a good read for you. Better yet, it's available at Mantor. Check it out today!

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursdays = Awesome

Well, hello. Welcome to Thursday in the Browsing Room. I’ll be your host: call me Ishmael. Kidding. I’ve just always wanted to say that. Actually, you can call me Bookjones.

Disclaimer: I’m very new to three things - library science (I’m a student), Mantor Library (I work here), and blogging. I realize that this makes me a rather unlikely guide to the Library World At Large, but I hope my enthusiasm for exploring this rapidly changing field will be infectious. My plan is to use Thursdays, at least in part, to share interesting things I come across as I scour The Internets . Mostly library-related stuff (because, hello, this is a library blog, and also because I have to at least maintain the pretext that my web surfing is work related. Shhhh.) but also items about publishing and authors and all things bookish. Now, some of you may be Library Veterans, and stuff that’s really new and exciting to me might be old hat for you. That’s okay. Feel free to snicker. I’ll just keep waving my freshly minted Library Geek membership card, and forge on. I hope you’ll come with me. It will be fun, and I make frequent stops for snacks.

So today, for your light entertainment, I offer as my inaugural Awesome Thing, this video of some pranksters invading the venerable New York Public Library. As far as I’m concerned the cool quotient is kicked up here not by the prank, or the library setting, but the New Yorkers themselves. In a situation where I would be all Ack! Masked individuals in NYC public setting = terrorists OMG we’re all going to die, not one of these unflappable patrons dives under a table to quiver in pants-peeing terror, as I would surely do. And that, my new friends, makes them awesome.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Who or What is a Librarian?

One of the most basic questions people might not know the answer to (even if they think they do) is "Who or what is a librarian?" I think the common perception would be, "Someone who works in a library." Patrons (what we librarians call you regular people who use our libraries) see someone in a library shelving books, or checking books out, or sitting behind a reference desk, and they naturally assume that person is a librarian. In reality, the answer to this question is much more complex.

For example, the traditional answer these days is to say that a librarian is someone who works at a library AND has an advanced degree in library science. This degree is normally called a Masters of Library Science (MLS), but these days other names have been assigned to it, as well: MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Studies), Master of Librarianship, etc. The exact name varies based on the university that grants the degree, but the principle remains the same. According to this definition, someone who simply works in a library isn't a librarian. He or she has to have an advanced degree to "earn" the title.

Naturally, this results in no little amount of debate and discussion in the world of librarians. For example, here in Maine there are many people who are even directors of local public libraries who aren't "librarians," since they lack the degree. However, they've worked in libraries, doing all aspects of library related duties, for thirty plus years. So why are they referred to as "paraprofessionals" when a girl in her twenties fresh out of grad school and in her first position is automatically granted the title? When you take into account the fact that full fledged "librarians" typically get paid more money, this can be a particularly touchy subject. (And indeed, in just the past month, there's been a big debate about this topic on MELIBS, the Maine Library List Serve.)

In the end, many outsiders would probably shrug their shoulders and dismiss the debate, going back to their "If they work in a library, they're a librarian" definition. But even then, there are many degrees of librarians. There are catalogers, serials librarians, acquisition librarians, library pages, administrative assistants, directors, reference librarians, subject specialists, book repair specialists, media librarians, information technology librarians, interlibrary loan librarians, and more--and that's just in an academic library. There are different types of libraries, as well: academic, high school, elementary, hospital, business, law, public, etc. And there are different types of each of those libraries, too. A small academic library will be very different than a large academic library. An all-volunteer public library that serves a single town will be totally different than the New York Public Library, with all its branches.

What is Mantor Library? We're a small academic library, part of a larger University of Maine library system that encompasses multiple campuses and public libraries. We have four full fledged "librarians" on staff, nine other full or part-time employees, and thirty or forty student workers. The nice thing is that by and large, librarians don't really care what you call us. We're just happy to have you come in and use what we have to offer. You don't have to worry about offending us here at Mantor. Ask anyone who works here your question--they should refer you to the person or people here who know the answer.

And that's your answer for today. Got a library-related question? Drop me an email, and I'll do my best to answer it in an upcoming post!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hello, World!

That's right, folks! We are hereby announcing the formation of a new blog. Not just any blog--a library blog. And not just any library blog--OUR library blog. ("Our", of course, means Mantor Library's. And by Mantor Library, we mean the library at the University of Maine at Farmington.)

But wait, you ask. Who are we, and what's a library blog? Read on!

Once it's fully operational, our blog will basically cover a different piece of library-related information every weekday. Here's the breakdown:
  • Mondays will give you the ins and outs of everything that happened at Mantor Library the week before, as well as alert you to everything that will happen at the library in the week ahead.
  • Tuesdays will focus on technology, talking about all the latest trends and news, particularly where those trends intersect with libraries. This won't just be cutting edge news for technophiles, however. We'll also be touching on older technology that some people might not be aware of, highlighting the way technology can be used to make your research and information finding and organization life easier. So for example, this would include a review of the iPad, an overview of eBooks as they apply to libraries, talk about how to use feed readers to stay on top of blogs--that sort of thing.
  • Wednesdays will be our "Ask a Librarian" column, where we discuss the inner workings of what goes on in a library. How things get from the author to the publisher to the library to you, and everything in between. How do we catalog? Why do we? What's the difference between Dewey and LC? If you've got questions, we want to answer them! If you don't have questions, we'll come up with Other Stuff to Tell You. :-)
  • Thursdays will be a look at the current events in Librarydom--the world of libraries beyond the limited scope of Mantor. Whether it's shrinking budgets, changing cataloging standards, cool new YouTube videos by librarians or anything else, look for it here!
  • Fridays will be a sampling of reviews of books and movies that the library owns. Not just bestsellers or the latest and greatest--but old classics, tried and true workhorses and anything else. We'll highlight the best of our collection.

So there you have it--that's what a library blog is, or at least what our blog will be. We hope there's something here for everyone, whether you're just interested in what's going on at Mantor, or you're interested in staying on top of technology trends, or you just want to know more about libraries in general--you can find it here at Browsing Room.

As to who we are--there will be two of us blogging. I'm the 1337 Librarian, and I'll be taking care of you on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. My counterpart has yet to think of a name for herself, so we'll just call her She Who Must Not Be Named for now--she'll keep you entertained Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. We'll probably have a post in the coming days detailing more about who we are and where our interests trend, in the meantime, Hello! Welcome!

I'm not really sure how long it will take for us to get settled into our groove--I'd expect a fair bit of upheaval in the next month or so as we work out the kinks to this blogging thing. Give us a bit of patience--it'll pay off in the long run!

Thanks for reading, and see you soon!